Luke's Top Ten of 2009

10 – Darwin Deez – S/T

Darwin Deez’ first official album comes out in 2010 and yet they have managed to land on this top ten list due to this self released album, much of which, I’m sure, will make up their forthcoming label debut. Despite this fact, though, I felt it absolutely necessary to include this album on this list.

The album has such joy and charm that it is nearly impossible for me to listen to it without smiling and looking around for four square feet within which I can dance.

It might be derivative of other acts (such as The Strokes) in places, but it is one hell of a fun record.

9 - Girls – Album

Vocals can oftentimes spell doom for bands when it comes down to my own personal taste, but the somewhat off-kilter and, what can only be described as, dirty vocals of Girls debut album are backed up by enough surf-and-sun merriment that it is impossible to deny the simple brilliance of Album.

Structurally sparse songs like “Laura” are stuffed with reverberating guitar strings clanging greedily against 1950s and 60s doo-wop melodies until, no matter how much one may wish to resist, a listener is left with nothing to do but smile, nod the head slightly, and hum along.

8 - Camera Obscura – My Maudlin Career

Recreations of the 60s R&B Pop sound have been flying around popular music more and more in the last few years with varying degrees of success, but Camera Obscura are the nearly unchallenged masters of the art form and My Maudlin Career is their best album to date.

Taking pure bliss pop songs and layering in a Phil Spektor-esque wall of sound, Camera Osbcura raise their orchestral compositions to a new level and, coupled with the ever-sharp lyrics, have put together an album that is as solid an album front to back as one is likely to ever hear. It might not have one or two songs that stand out above all others in the such as many great albums, but this is really a tribute to the strength and charm present on every song on the tracklisting, and it is far from a criticism.

7 - Richard Hawley – True Love’s Gutter

Richard Hawley keeps plugging along in his quest to become the coolest man in existence and he is getting closer and closer to this finality with each of his album releases. To the uninitiated listener, Hawley might sound like a cheesy retread of some of the albums that are mothballing inside your grandparents’ old record cabinets, but to the trained ear, he is astonishing, taking tried and true themes and arrangements and putting his stamp of trademarked delay and throaty vocals to each.

There might be nothing better than putting on a Richard Hawley album, sitting in front of a roaring fire while the snow engulfs the walls around you, and allowing the songs to seep deeply into your consciousness.

6 - Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

Crisp. Clean. Spotless. Gleaming. Pristine. Unblemished. Sparkling. Fresh.


5 - White Rabbits – It’s Frightening

There is a band to which White Rabbits have drawn and will continue to draw comparisons to, partly because of who produced their latest album It’s Frightening, but while this comparison seems to make sense on a quick listen to It’s Frightening, deeper consideration clearly indicates the dramatic differences in both aim and style and reveals that White Rabbits owes much more to The Bends-era Radiohead than the darlings of soul-pop, Spoon.

While Spoon frontman Britt Daniels production gives It’s Frightening the same minimalist, groove-based feel of a Spoon album, White Rabbits prove themselves to be a deeper band, crafting unique percussive arrangements and dropping in liquid-cool guitar lines that take from the best moments of Johnny Greenwood.

It may be difficult to imagine what a band created from equal parts Spoon and Radiohead truly sounds like without listening to White Rabbits, but the product is sparkling and infinitely listenable, which is the mark of any truly great album .

4 - Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion

What is there left for any reviewer to say about Merriweather Post Pavilion? It’s a sonic boom slap to the brain that somehow manages to be both entirely unique and filled with genius despite staying relatively free of pretension.

It’s an album that, as I found out personally, almost exactly mirrors, in a good way, the effects of being drunk on wine.

3 - Noah and the Whale – The First Day of Spring

There is nothing that will split a listening audience more than a breakup album because it not only forces the listener to put themselves into a certain emotional state, but it oftentimes requires work and time to fully realize the intended effect.

Perhaps this is why so few breakup albums appear in my collection of music and why even fewer ever appear on my Top Ten Lists, but regardless of the reasoning, the fact that The First Day of Spring made it onto my list (and with such a high ranking no less) should speak volumes about the music present on this album

Ranging from Sigur Ros orchestrations to The Edge-like guitar lines, complete with crisp reverb, The First Day of Spring manages to present a wide assortment of styles and sounds, but never comes even close to losing its narrative thread thanks to the jittery and sincere vocals of Charlie Fink, who, despite threading together a story of complete misery, never loses sight of the hopefulness of the horizon.

The album as a whole is a beautiful piece of musicianship that should be truly appreciated for its earnestness.

2 - Grizzly Bear – Veckatemist

There might not be a more interesting band that Grizzly Bear at the moment. Not even Animal Collective.

Grizzly Bear are the rare act that not only creates incredible songs, but is so technically sound and skilled that it’s almost unfair that they should also be able to write such diverse and hook-laden songs.

To be fair, it shouldn’t work. Harmonies and chamber vocals aren’t supposed to be as hip as Grizzly Bear makes them, yet somehow, on every single composition they put together, they manage to string numerous lyrical and melodic threads together to create incredibly unique and mind-blowingly addictive songs.

Veckatimist is the rare album that gets better on every listen, even nearly a year down the line.

1 - The Cribs – Ignore the Ignorant

Johnny Marr must have ADD. The man can’t seem to keep himself occupied with playing in a band or even a genre for more than a few years at a time. After his name-making go-round with The Smiths, he’s bounced around from The The to Electronic to his own disappointingly generic Johnny Marr and the Healers and most recently to Modest Mouse, all while providing bands like Oasis and Pet Shop Boys with part-time work on the side.

Marr has now joined as a full-time member of English band The Cribs; they of the no-nonsense, recorded-is-live-is-recorded approach to what could easily be categorized as full-tempo neo-brit rock, if such a classification actually existed.

Marr says his work with The Cribs is his best in 25 years… and he’s right. Not only are his guitar lines as crisp and creative as they have been in years, but they provide a crucial underscore to the ruggedness of the Jarman brothers’ quick pace.

While his addition to the band doesn’t change what The Cribs are or have been, it does help to accentuate their already fully formed identity, bolding in the sometimes-hazy lines of structure and brightening areas that before were pastel.

But while Marr’s influence takes The Cribs to a higher plateau musically, it is twins Gary and Ryan’s songwriting that allows this album to peak so high. Their songs are tightly packed balls of energy and unadulterated hooks, which lead any listener to a definitive and clichéd, but ultimately true, finality: this album rocks.



Jameson said...

Well...I think every year that we have had the joint blog, our lists have converged just a bit more and more. I guess that means that either we are actually listening to eachother/reading each other's posts, or our tastes are somewhat converge in our old age. Probably a combination of both.

The Girls album has universally kind of been the big "new" indie band of the year. Deservedly so. I like that we are at a point where bands can come out and makes great rock/pop music and get recognition for it.

Keeping on the point of the whole "pop is cool" theme, we have two seemingly un-pop bands putting out the most "pop" albums of their respective careers in 2009; Animal Collective and Grizzly Bear (and even moreso with Dirty Projectors). Once again, I am happy that we are back at a time in music (at least within "elitist" circles) when bands can make music that can be enjoyed by the masses and still be considered to be at the top of their game. Felt like we hit a point there a few years back where if the vocals were not buried in the mix, or your songs were not structured in a non-traditional manner, you were getting labelled as a sellout. Kudos to the indie kids for letting us all have a little fun.

You introduced me to the Noah and the Whale stuff a couple of months back, and I am really starting to come around on it. The desperation in this guy's voice is enough to keep me coming back, but the instrumentation is not hurting either.

I am currently listening to this album by the Cribs. I mentioned this to you already, but its crazy to me that I can read so much music stuff on a daily basis, and you can still manage to find a band to put as your number one album of the year that I have not even heard of. I enjoyed the first track (charmingly titled "We Were Aborted"), and the rest of it seems decent. We will see if I feel myself coming back to it.

All and all a good list. Just another reminder that I need to post mine.

Luke said...

The Cribs album is weird... I have no delusions that it is a groundbreaking album of any kind, but I just enjoy it so much. When creating this list I thought about the year as a whole and the album that I played the most and was never sick of was The Cribs.

We'll see how it holds up over time, but it's just good, straightforward, british rock.